The law of the library

John Zorbas

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

John Zorbas is excited about his library. It shows in his facial expressions and the way he jumps from his seat when anyone comes in seeking help. He has worked as the director of the Butte County Public Law Library—located in the rear of the Superior Court building in Oroville—for 11 years. He helps people find information about family law, landlord-tenant disputes, credit reports and more. Zorbas, 48, sits on a number of boards, and he has recently created various forms to help people through the legal process. Passionate about his work, he says he wishes more people knew the library existed—that way he could help more of them.

You’ve created some forms to help people during the legal process. Can you describe one of them?

Clerks and self-help centers can help someone fill in a form or direct them somewhere, but once a case starts, that’s going to involve what’s called “law in motion.” At a “law in motion” hearing, a judge will issue orders to bring both parties into compliance with the law. There was no pre-printed all-purpose form for the public to use to apply for an order if someone is not following procedure. I developed such a form. It directs [the person filling it out] to code sections and cases that will back up their request.

You sit on the state Judicial Council Task Force on Self-Represented Litigants. What does the task force do?

These people give me energy. It’s great when you can come out of a meeting with more energy than it took to get you there. Our purpose is to develop minimum standards and the best practices for self-help centers. In response to the great number of people who go to court without a lawyer, the state wants a department at the courthouses to help people with their paperwork. The court law library fills in the gaps.

What are some of the resources you have that people might not know about?

We have a comprehensive online library of CPA tax research called the RIA Federal Tax Library that you have to subscribe to—we subscribe to it. We have an enormous number of titles in our Westlaw subscription. I can get every current law review in the English-speaking world. We also have a historic record of all of the California statutes, from 1850 to the present.

Do you think many people know you exist?

That’s a problem that’s endemic to court law libraries in general. If people have no contact with the court system, they don’t know about us. People say, “Oh, everything’s on the Internet now.” It’s not. We’re teachers. We have the resources and we show people how to use them. It’s all here. The court and the library trustees are considering moving us to a more public place. They’ve said the city of Chico would be interested in housing our law library. The city of Oroville has made the same overture. The lawyers and a lot of the people serving the public have the point of view that the law library is best where it is right now. Public comment is sought because—where does the public want us? Do they like us where we are, or would they rather have us in a more public place?